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Can People Really Change?

As a fresh, new grad student poised and ready for the launch of my first graduate school course, before any formalities or introductions were made, the very first question out of our professor’s mouth on the very first day of courses was this:

Can people really change?

Can people really change? How could he be asking us this?, I thought.

I’d spent the last two years of my life preparing to begin graduate-level training for a career in the meaningful work of transforming human lives and this was the first question I was being asked? Wasn’t it assumed that people could really change? Why else would we all be here sitting here? Was my professor about to tell us the whole business of counseling and coaching people through change, transition and transformation was a hoax? This idea that we can heal, that we can grow, that we can turn our dreams into goals and our goals into achievements and see those achievements result in our dreams come true … that we could truly overcome our fears and become the visions we all have of ourselves when we’re daydreaming about what else life could be or what else was meant to be for us … was it really all not possible?

Can people really change?

I spent the first 90 minutes as a graduate school student in existential churning asking this question, wondering if my answer would leave me walking away on the very first day. Can people really change?

My professor did not answer that question for us. I spent three years gaining a Master’s degree in Counseling Psychology with the goal of becoming a skilled, healing guide in the lives of people in pain. And it was necessary that I grapple with my truth about that question.

It is necessary that you grapple with your truth about that question.

Because healing is part faith project, at first: daring to believe you can get better.

The question, can we really change? has morphed, for me to, can we really heal? Because I believe we are already everything we are wanting to become and the ruptures we've lived have usually tarnished or damaged our essential selves. Change is about healing ... returning to the true, authentic you.

We come into this world fresh and clean and pure and untouched. And our lives begin to take shape according to a dynamic, fascinating confluence of what’s built into our biology and what builds in and around that biology through our experiences in relationships, life events, and the stories we create. Before we have words to speak, our bodies do all the learning about what our world is, what we’re capable of, what other humans are capable of in our lives. Right away we learn about love and belonging. And it all downloads right into our neurology, right into our physical beings, whether we want it to or not. All of our making and becoming hard-wires way back when. If this is true, how can people really change?

Every reason to stay put in our lives, to avoid healing, exists. The journey can be wrapped in mystery. Our brains like routine and comfort and dependability.

But two factors trump all when it comes to answering this question. These factors are universals, human experiences that every last one of us cannot refute, cannot resist, and must acknowledge exists deep down in our bones if we want to believe we can really heal. And they are what inspire us to change. When we each as tiny babes transcended into existence through the celestial paneling in the sky, these two factors came down with us in our cells, these extraordinary things that answers the question, can people really change?

The first is a Sense of Wonder: Sense of wonder is the intrinsic observer inside of us that notices that incredible, surprising, catching curiosity in our environment, like that dog that is definitely smiling at us, the stunning sunset only we can see, a person hugging a crying child, the good and warm feeling of the sun on our skin. Sense of wonder is the internal acknowledgement of an external source of miracle, joy, beauty, and anything that is alive to us. Sense of wonder ignites us inside – it’s what wakes us up to the wonder in ourselves that every last one of us is built with. We see the thing of wonder on the outside because it is built within us. Wonder recognizes wonder. The ignition of our internal wonder that sparks at the kindness of a friend, or the beauty of the earth, or someone overcoming trial irrefutably confirms that we can be beings of change. Because inspiration catches us, it lights our insides, and it fills us with desire to keep connecting with this sense of wonder; to keep after it with a desperate faith, loyalty and commitment, and to acknowledge that how we're living right now doesn't feel right. There must be more. And we, as humans, can and will change anything we think we need to for that ignition to fan into flame. Without a sense of wonder, humans have no need to change, no thing to strive for, no strip for the match to strike upon. We are beings of wonder, filled with the capacity to sense wonder, deriving our passion to live out and express the very wonder of who we are. Wonder is what changes us, and it is what we will change for.

The second of these factors is Human Resiliency – the experience we have in the din of life, when all the cards are down and we feel defeated. When we look back across life and see the various inner scaffoldings around us that propped us up and kept us going despite the challenges we were facing, or that we are facing today. Human resiliency is a natural law, a code in our cells that compels us to not give up and to, against all odds, keep going. Without resiliency, we would have no reason to try for another day, no reason to strive for evolution, to transition our lives from one old version to a truer one, and then a truer one after that.

People can really heal. At the crossroads of crisis and opportunity where we either choose healing or give in, our sense of wonder and our resiliency, if we pause and search for them each, are the pillars that exist within us to hold us up and push us on and inspire us toward real and lasting change.

© 2016 Haley Kliefoth

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